Minsk follows informal convention with Kremlin in bilateral relations and foreign policy
In relations with the Kremlin, including at the international fora, Minsk follows a model of interstate relations, which is popular among the former Soviet Union countries. This model is based on informal conventions between senior leadership and private agreements between the heads of state. Formal bilateral or multilateral agreements between the states are often used for domestic political legitimating of post-Soviet elites only and are not respected by the parties. Moreover, each party forces through its interests and disregards the interests of other contractors. However, when tensions arise, post-Soviet leaders use intergovernmental agreements to block undesirable decisions or refuse to adhere to the previously assumed allied commitments.
Last week, at the Collective Security Treaty Organisation meeting in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov outlined Moscow’s position on the situation in Syria and the conflict with Turkey.
Russian commentators often accuse Minsk of ignoring the ‘allied commitments’ and refusing to accept unequivocally pro-Kremlin position at the international fora. For instance, many Russian media had repeatedly criticised Belarus’ position during the Russo-Georgian escalation (2008) and the Russo-Ukrainian conflict (2014), as the Belarusian authorities were attempting to find a balanced approach and to reconcile the conflicting parties.
Amid growing tension between Russia and Turkey after the Turkish Air Force downed a Russian Su-24 bomber over the Turkish-Syrian border, Russian commentators and analysts have stepped up media pressure on the officials in Minsk. Russian media have referred to the duty of the Russia’s closest ally in the CSTO (Belarus) to show solidarity, and not only to condemn Ankara’s actions, but also to participate in the military mission in Syria.
However, according to the informal convention ‘adopted’ the former Soviet Union space, Minsk has already fulfilled its commitments vis-a-vis the Kremlin. The Belarusian leadership has sided with the Kremlin on the Syrian conflict by supporting and recognising President Bashar al-Assad’s government as the legitimate authority in Syria. Moreover, Russia has decided to deploy a military operation in Syria on the side of the Syrian government without proper consultations with the CSTO partner-countries, and only notified them of her decision.
In addition, Belarus’ and other post-soviet states’ foreign policy approaches to conflict resolution significantly differ from those of the Kremlin. Minsk has always emphasised the importance of peaceful settlement through negotiations and attempted to implement its ‘peacemaker’ potential. Au contraire, the Kremlin has been increasingly relying on aggressive foreign policy, and using soft power only to prepare for tougher actions in the case of divergence of interests with its former partners.
Despite the formal integration agreements concluded to coordinate cooperation in the economic, military and foreign policy, the Kremlin has been acting without looking back to its "junior partners" within the Eurasian integration. In the past few years, Moscow has introduced a food embargo on the EU Member States, Ukraine and Turkey without considering the interests of its allies within the Eurasian integration. In addition, Russia deployed military operations in Georgia (2008), Ukraine (during the annexation of Crimea in 2014) and Syria (2015), without taking into account the interests of her partners in the CSTO military-political bloc.
The lack of commitment to comply with the formal provisions of agreements in the post-Soviet space often leads to trade wars between Russia and her partners. In addition, the priority of informal arrangements and political conditionality often leads to omissions and imperfections in the concluded interstate agreements. For example, as of the new year, Belarus and Russia may again encounter problems due to the introduction of new technical regulations within the Customs Union regarding the safety of wheeled vehicles. Belarus claims the new regulation is discriminatory against Belarusian companies and is favourable for Russian businesses.
Minsk and Moscow build their relations on having informal agreements between the senior leadership and inconsistently applying the provisions of formal bilateral and multilateral agreements with other post-Soviet states. If one of the parties, therefore, violates such informal agreements, it also disregards formal integration commitments with reference to their conflicting nature.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.